Sherrie-Jane Jackson founder of the Forget-Me-Not cafe in Langport
In September 2012 Sherrie-Jane Jackson set up the Forget-Me-Not café, a weekly meeting place for people who suffer from dementia and memory problems. It’s held at The Angel, a once derelict pub in Langport turned around by the local church and now used by community groups. I meet Sherrie-Jane for a coffee ahead of one of the Tuesday afternoon meets.
“Last week there was a couple of the men playing dominoes. We play cards, do jigsaws. Last week we were doing a quiz game and sometimes we have a speaker. We always have tea and cake and we always, always finish with music.”
She tells me how the café began after discussing with her local vicar, Revd Jess Pittman, the different ways they could make the most of The Angle for the good of the community.
“My husband actually has Alzheimer’s, so I live with it day in day out. I know what it’s like to be a carer; I know how difficult it is and I feel very strongly that you need to look after the carers and give them some respite.”
But life used to be very different for Sherrie-Jane and her husband. They lived overseas, she ran her own business and they led very busy lives until her husband’s illness compelled her to reflect on her situation.
“It came to the point where I couldn’t cope with running the business and looking after Peter. I was very lucky and I sold it. But I also wanted to do some voluntary work so I went away with Mercy Ships to Sierra Leone for three months. It was amazing how quickly everything happened for me.”
It was upon the mercy ships that Sherrie-Jane felt her journey gained traction and God revealed himself through the everyday actions of the people around her.
“People were very open with their faith and if you were a bit unhappy or a bit sad, people would come to you and give you a cuddle and say, ‘Shall we pray together?’ I’d never ever in my life experienced anything like that. I found the love and the friendship just overwhelming. It was just the most amazing experience.”
The simple actions of love and compassion she experienced on that ship during just three months of her life inspired her to return renewed and ready to give herself to others and to God.
“I brought back a renewed energy and the love that I have to give. I’ve always been a giving person, but I could now focus it on a good cause. With my experience of Alzheimer’s, I could help other people in my situation.” Had she been called, I ask her? “I know a lot of people on the ship kept saying to me, ‘God’s got a plan for you,’ and I always thought, ‘I wish he’d hurry up and tell me what it is!’ He seemed to be guiding me to help people. I just felt so refreshed with people who just to love me and I thought, ‘This is how it should be.’”
Through conversation, song and encouragement, sufferers of dementia and their carers experience first-hand the renewed love and energy Sherrie-Jane has to offer.
I spent an afternoon there and was overwhelmed by the compassion Sherrie-Jane and her team had for others. In one particular moment, a volunteer captured the attention and focus of a lady suffering from dementia. Caught in conversation, the volunteer encouraged the lady to recall a memory of reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Sunday school as a child and for a fleeting moment the whole room was joined together, in unison, in the comfort of the Lord’s Prayer.
Sherrie-Jane says, “I think God has been guiding me without me even realising it, thank goodness. As long as I keep remembering he is there, he has got a purpose for me in life, then I carry on.”
First printed in the April 2013 edition of Manna Magazine. Interviewed by James Butterworth.